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Nuclear and radiation accidents

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During the 2011 Fukushima nuclear emergency in Japan, three nuclear reactors were damaged by explosions.
The abandoned city of Prypiat, Ukraine, following the Chernobyl disaster. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is in the background.

The list of the worst disasters at nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities all over the world is presented below:

One of the worst nuclear accidents to date was the Chernobyl disaster which occurred in 1986 in Ukraine. That accident killed 30 people directly, as well as damaging approximately $7 billion of property. A study published in 2005 estimates that there will eventually be up to 4,000 additional cancer deaths related to the accident among those exposed to significant radiation levels.[1] Radioactive fallout from the accident was concentrated in areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Approximately 350,000 people were forcibly resettled away from these areas soon after the accident.[1]

Some of the most serious nuclear and radiation accidents by death toll in the world have involved nuclear submarine mishaps. To-date, all of these were units of the former Soviet Union.[2][3][4][2]

Normal accidents[change | change source]

Normal Accidents is a 1984 book by Yale sociologist Charles Perrow, which provides a detailed analysis of complex systems from a social sciences perspective. It was the first to characterize complex technological systems such as nuclear power plants according to their riskiness. Perrow says that multiple and unexpected failures are built into society's complex and tightly-coupled systems. Such accidents cannot be designed around.[5]

The inspiration for Perrow's books was the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, where a nuclear accident resulted from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. The event was an example of a normal accident because it was "unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable".[6]

Perrow's argument rests on three principles. Firstly, people make mistakes, even at nuclear plants. Secondly, big accidents almost always escalate from very small beginnings. Thirdly, many failures are those of organizations more than technology. Each of these principles is still relevant today.[5]

Nuclear power[change | change source]

Nuclear power plant accidents and incidents
with multiple fatalities and/or more than US$100 million in property damage, 1952-2011
Date Location of accident Description of accident Dead Cost
2006 )
October 10, 1957 Sellafield, Cumberland, United Kingdom A fire at the British atomic bomb project destroyed the core and released radioactive material into the environment. 0 5
January 3, 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, United States Explosion at SL-1 prototype at the National Reactor Testing Station. All 3 operators were killed when a control rod was removed too far. 3 22 4
October 5, 1966 Frenchtown Charter Township, Michigan, United States Partial core meltdown of the Fermi 1 Reactor at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station. 0 132[10]
January 21, 1969 Lucens reactor, Vaud, Switzerland Loss-of-coolant accident, leading to a partial core meltdown and massive radioactive contamination of the cavern, which was then sealed. 0 4
1975 Sosnovyi Bor, Leningrad Oblast, Russia There was reportedly a partial nuclear meltdown in Leningrad nuclear power plant reactor unit 1.
December 7, 1975 Greifswald, East Germany Electrical error causes fire in the main trough that destroys control lines and five main coolant pumps 0 443 3
January 5, 1976 Jaslovské Bohunice, Czechoslovakia Malfunction during fuel replacement. Fuel rod ejected from reactor into the reactor hall by coolant (CO2).[11] 2 4
February 22, 1977 Jaslovské Bohunice, Czechoslovakia Severe corrosion of reactor and release of radioactivity into the plant area, necessitating total decommission 0 1,700 4
March 28, 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, United States Loss of coolant and partial core meltdown due to operator errors. There is a small release of radioactive gases. 0 2,400 5
September 15, 1984 Athens, Alabama, United States Safety violations, operator error, and design problems force a six-year outage at Browns Ferry Unit 2. 0 110
March 9, 1985 Athens, Alabama, United States Instrumentation systems malfunction during startup, which led to suspension of operations at all three Browns Ferry Units 0 1,830
April 11, 1986 Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States Recurring equipment problems force emergency shutdown of Boston Edison’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant 0 1,001
April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Ukrainian SSR Overheating, steam explosion, fire, and meltdown, necessitating the evacuation of 300,000 people from Chernobyl and dispersing radioactive material across Europe 56 direct;
4,000 to
6,700 7
May 4, 1986 Hamm-Uentrop, Germany Experimental THTR-300 reactor releases small amounts of fission products (0.1 GBq Co-60, Cs-137, Pa-233) to surrounding area 0 267
March 31, 1987 Delta, Pennsylvania, United States Peach Bottom units 2 and 3 shutdown due to cooling malfunctions and unexplained equipment problems 0 400
December 19, 1987 Lycoming, New York, United States Malfunctions force Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation to shut down Nine Mile Point Unit 1 0 150
March 17, 1989 Lusby, Maryland, United States Inspections at Calvert Cliff Units 1 and 2 reveal cracks at pressurized heater sleeves, forcing extended shutdowns 0 120
March 1992 Sosnovyi Bor, Leningrad Oblast, Russia An accident at the Sosnovy Bor nuclear plant leaked radioactive gases and iodine into the air through a ruptured fuel channel.
February 20, 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, United States Leaking valve forces shutdown Millstone Nuclear Power Plant Units 1 and 2, multiple equipment failures found 0 254
September 2, 1996 Crystal River, Florida, United States Equipment malfunction forces shutdown and extensive repairs at Crystal River Unit 3 0 384
September 30, 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan Tokaimura nuclear accident killed two workers, and exposed one more to radiation levels above permissible limits. 2 54 4
February 16, 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, United States Severe corrosion of control rod forces 24-month outage of Davis-Besse reactor 0 143 3
August 9, 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan Steam explosion at Mihama Nuclear Power Plant kills 4 workers and injures 7 more 4 9 1
July 25, 2006 Forsmark, Sweden An electrical fault at Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant caused one reactor to be shut down 0 100 2
March 11, 2011 Fukushima, Japan A tsunami flooded and damaged the 5 active reactor plants drowning two workers. Loss of backup electrical power led to overheating, meltdowns, and evacuations.[14] One man died suddenly while carrying equipment during the clean-up. 7[15]
12 September 2011 Marcoule, France One person was killed and four injured, one seriously, in a blast at the Marcoule Nuclear Site. The explosion took place in a furnace used to melt metallic waste. 1

Nuclear submarines[change | change source]

Some of the most serious nuclear and radiation accidents by death toll in the world have involved nuclear submarine mishaps. To-date, all of these were units of the former Soviet Union.[2][3] Reactor accidents that resulted in core damage and release of radioactivity from nuclear-powered submarines include:[4][2]

  • K-8, 1960, loss-of-coolant accident; substantial radioactivity released.[16]
  • K-14, 1961, reactor compartment replaced due to unspecified "breakdown of reactor protection systems."
  • K-19, 1961, loss-of-coolant accident resulting in 8 deaths and more than 30 other people being over-exposed to radiation.[17] The events on board the submarine are dramatized by the film K-19: The Widowmaker.
  • K-11, 1965, both reactors damaged during refueling while lifting the reactor vessel heads; reactor compartments scuttled off the east coast of Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea in 1966.
  • K-27, 1968, experienced reactor core damage to one of its reactors, resulting in 9 fatalities and 83 other injuries; scuttled in the Kara Sea in 1982.[18]
  • K-140, 1968, reactor damaged following an uncontrolled, automatic increase in power during shipyard work.[19]
  • K-429, 1970, an uncontrolled start up of the ship's reactor led to a fire and the release of radioactivity[19]
  • K-116, 1970, loss-of-coolant accident in the port reactor; substantial radioactivity released.
  • K-64, 1972, failure of the first Alfa-class liquid-metal cooled reactor; reactor compartment scrapped.
  • K-222, 1980, Papa-class submarine had a reactor accident during maintenance in the shipyard while the ship's naval crew had left for lunch.[19]
  • K-123, 1982, Alfa-class submarine reactor core damaged by liquid-metal coolant leak; the sub was forced out of commission for eight years.[19][20]
  • K-431, 1985, a reactor accident while refueling resulted in 10 fatalities and 49 other people suffered radiation injuries.[3]
  • K-219, 1986, suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube, eventually leading to a reactor accident; a 20-year old enlisted seaman, Sergei Preminin, sacrificed his life to secure one of the onboard reactors. The submarine sank three days later.
  • K-192, 1989, loss-of-coolant accident; reclassified from K-131.

Radiotherapy accidents[change | change source]

Year Type Accident ARS fatalities ARS survivors Location
1957 alleged crime Nikolay Khokhlov assassination attempt[21] 0 1 Frankfurt, West Germany
1962 orphan source radiation accident in Mexico City 4 ? Mexico City, Mexico
1985 radiotherapy Therac-25 radiation overdose accidents 3 3
1984 orphan source radiation accident in Morocco[22] 8 3 Mohammedia, Morocco
1987 orphan source Goiânia accident[23] 4 ? Goiânia, Brazil
1990 radiotherapy radiotherapy accident in Zaragoza[24] 11 ? Zaragoza, Spain
1996 radiotherapy radiotherapy accident in Costa Rica[25] 7 to 20 46 San José, Costa Rica
2000 orphan source Samut Prakan radiation accident[26] 3 7 Samut Prakan Province, Thailand
2000 radiotherapy Instituto Oncologico Nacional accident[27][2] 3 to 7 ? Panama City, Panama
2006 crime Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko[21][28][29][30][31] 1 0 London, United Kingdom
2010 orphan source Mayapuri radiological accident[26] 1 7 Mayapuri, India

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Benjamin K. Sovacool. A preliminary assessment of major energy accidents, 1907–2007, Energy Policy 36 (2008), pp. 1802-1820.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Johnston, Robert (September 23, 2007). "Deadliest radiation accidents and other events causing radiation casualties". Database of Radiological Incidents and Related Events.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "The Worst Nuclear Disasters". Time. 25 March 2009. Archived from the original on 26 August 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kristin Shrader-Frechette (October 2011). "Fukushima, Flawed Epistemology, and Black-Swan Events" (PDF). Ethics, Policy and Environment, Vol. 14, No. 3.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Daniel E Whitney (2003). "Normal Accidents by Charles Perrow" (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  6. Perrow, C. (1982), "The President’s Commission and the Normal Accident", in Sils, D., Wolf, C. and Shelanski, V. (Eds), Accident at Three Mile Island: The Human Dimensions, Westview, Boulder, pp.173–184.
  7. Benjamin K. Sovacool. A Critical Evaluation of Nuclear Power and Renewable Electricity in Asia Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 40, No. 3, August 2010, pp. 393–400.
  8. Benjamin K. Sovacool (2009). The Accidental Century - Prominent Energy Accidents in the Last 100 Years
  9. Timeline: Nuclear plant accidents BBC News, 11 July 2006.
  10. "Nuclear Accidents". hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu.
  11. cs:Havárie elektrárny Jaslovské Bohunice A-1
  12. "IAEA Report". In Focus: Chernobyl. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  13. Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
  14. "Worker dies at damaged Fukushima nuclear plant". CBS News. 2011-05-14.
  15. "Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update Log". www.iaea.org. 12 April 2011.
  16. "K-8 submarine reactor accident, 1960". www.johnstonsarchive.net.
  17. Strengthening the Safety of Radiation Sources Archived 2009-03-26 at the Wayback Machine p. 14.
  18. Johnston, Robert (23 September 2007). "Deadliest radiation accidents and other events causing radiation casualties". Database of Radiological Incidents and Related Events.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 "Chap. 8: Nuclear submarine accidents - The Russian Northern Fleet". spb.org.ru. Archived from the original on 2014-12-29. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
  20. "K-19 and other Subs in Peril". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Goldfarb, Alex; Litvinenko, Marina (2007). Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB. Simon & Schuster UK. ISBN 978-1-4711-0301-8.
  22. "Lost Iridium-192 Source".
  23. The Radiological Accident in Goiania p. 2.
  24. Strengthening the Safety of Radiation Sources Archived 2009-03-26 at the Wayback Machine p. 15.
  25. Gusev, Igor; Guskova, Angelina; Mettler, Fred A. (12 December 2010). Medical Management of Radiation Accidents, Second Edition. CRC Press. pp. 299–303. ISBN 978-1-4200-3719-7.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Bagla, Pallava (7 May 2010). "Radiation Accident a 'Wake-Up Call' For India's Scientific Community". Science. 328 (5979): 679. Bibcode:2010Sci...328..679B. doi:10.1126/science.328.5979.679-a. PMID 20448162.
  27. International Atomic Energy Agency. "Investigation of an accidental Exposure of radiotherapy patients in Panama" (PDF).
  28. Patterson AJ (2007). "Ushering in the era of nuclear terrorism". Critical Care Medicine. 35 (3): 953–4. doi:10.1097/01.CCM.0000257229.97208.76. PMID 17421087.
  29. Acton, James M.; Brooke Rogers, M.; Zimmerman, Peter D. (October 2007). "Beyond the Dirty Bomb: Re-thinking Radiological Terror". Survival. 49 (3): 151–168. doi:10.1080/00396330701564760. ISSN 0039-6338. S2CID 154617638.
  30. Sixsmith, Martin (2007). The Litvinenko File: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy. True Crime. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-312-37668-0.
  31. Bremer Mærli, Morten. "Radiological Terrorism: "Soft Killers"". Bellona Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-12-17. Retrieved 2014-11-13.